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Botanical Skin care Out of Africa

by Kristan Schiller
Africa is the source of some of the most interesting and effective botanical skin care ingredients

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The African continent offers a deep diversity of culture and tradition, as well as one of the harshest climates on the planet. Throughout history, inhabitants of Africa have learned how to harness their natural resources to protect their skin from damage caused by environmental extremes. Shea butter, kola nut, Kalahari melon seed oil, Senegalese hibiscus oil, rooibos, African potato, marula oil, baobab and the aloe ferox plant are just a handful of native plants and oils that Africans—and now the world—use to care for their skin. Here’s a rundown of African ingredients, how they’re sourced and the ways in which they’ve been used over time.

Kalahari Melon Seed Oil Kalahari Melon seed oil is pressed from the seeds of the melons that grow in the Kalahari Desert, which covers swaths of semi-arid land in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. In fact, it’s such an important source of nutrition and hydration for the nomadic tribes that traverse this desert that it is said they will not travel when the melons are not in season. The seed is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which helps the plant survive in the hot, dry Kalahari.

Shea Butter The English word “shea” derives from shíyiri in the Bambara language of Mali, which is the name of the tree from which the magical shea nut grows. The fat extracted from this nut, shea butter, is used as cooking oil in Benin, and for hairdressing and candle-making elsewhere in Africa. Uniquely, shea butter is also rubbed onto traditional wooden percussion instruments in Africa to extend their life and durability. Above all, however, shea butter has unparalleled healing and moisturizing properties, and has been used by African women since the
beginning of time to nourish and protect the skin.

Rooibos Rooibos tea has been used across Southern Africa to soothe itchy skin. Newborn babies are still bathed in rooibos tea—and even nursed with rooibos—to keep their pH balance intact and to build immune systems. It is loaded with vitamin C.

Kola Nut Kola nut is a staple used in African ceremonies to celebrate life. In addition, due to the high caffeine content, older women use the Kola nut to stimulate circulation and keep the skin hydrated.

Aloe Ferox In the Cape province, the traditional healers used the Aloe Ferox plant as an SPF. It was also used in combination with the African potato to heal burns and skin infections.


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Shea Moisture’s nourishing moisturizers, masks, shampoos and soaps made with raw shea butter, baobab, marula, babbassu and more (sheamoisture.com); Africology’s sunscreens, moisturizers and exfoliators made with marula, rooibos, aloe vera and African potato (africologyspa.com); Shea Terra Organics’ healing and anti-aging Tamanu Oil (sheaterraorganics.com); Alaffia’s Shea Butter, which is unrefined, fair trade and traditionally handcrafted in small batches (alaffia.com); Lovinah Naturals’ Massage Oil and Body Scrubs (lovinah.com); and Shea Radiance’s Whipped Shea Butter with Kalahari Melon Seed Oil, recommended as a salve for growing pregnant bellies (shearadiance.com).


Post-Safari Spa

Experience indigenous ingredients in action at these Southern African spas

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Set in the Moremi Wildlife Reserve in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where inhabitants range from Nile crocodile to hippopotamus, the 14 luxury-tent Belmond Khwai River Lodge is one of the few safari lodges to offer a fitness center and small spa. Guests can soothe achy muscles post-game drive with the 90-minute Soul of Africa Body Conditioning Massage, which begins with an application of mud followed by a massage with essential oils such as neroli and marula from Africology, the South African line. (belmondsafaris.com)

In the heart of bustling Cape Town, South Africa, sister property Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel has seen everyone from Winston Churchill to Oprah Winfrey since opening in 1899. Following a major renovation that refreshed guestrooms and suites, the hotel features two outdoor swimming pools, a new electric bike program for guided tours around town, and Librisa, an on-site spa replete with a Finnish sauna. At the spa, check in for innovative treatments including the one-hour detoxifying Africology Coffee Mint Clay Wrap, ideal for treating cellulite, or the restorative 90-minute African Goddess Facial, performed with rooibos extract and marula nut oil.

—Jennie Nunn

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